Meet Chrissie Dowler—a multi-hyphenate force for good in fashion
Apr 30, 2021
Our women’s business owners series continues to highlight women doing remarkable work in Brooklyn. Today, we want to introduce you to Chrissie Dowler, a fashion industry vet who staked out her own unique space as a force for good — in the fashion world, and her community.
Dowler’s home base is Ditmas Park, where she lives and operates the four (yes, four) parts of her business. She’s a busy woman but it hasn’t kept her from giving back. At the height of the pandemic last spring, Dowler enlisted the help of neighbors and turned her apartment (and eight others) into an assembly line of mask-making for essential workers. Bklyner profiled Dowler and her neighbors’ efforts, which ultimately led to the production of 1,500 fashion-forward masks for essential workers.
This kind of giving back is a natural outgrowth of Dowler’s beliefs that fashion has the opportunity to be impactful in more ways than just driving trends. As she explains below, part of her business is also geared toward serving the unique needs of the transgender community, who may want to change up their styling without dropping a fortune on a whole new wardrobe.
Enjoy the Q+A below and if you like what you read, you can reach out to Dowler on her Pied Beauty Facebook page (as well as see photos of her furry studio assistant Vega).
RC: First tell us about your business and anything special we should know about it or you.
CD: There are four parts to my company, Pied Beauty Studios, which is located in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn. It is a local mobile tailoring business, where we do all types of alterations, tailoring, repair and restoration work.
My company also does fashion pre-production work for brands. This means developing designs, patterns, and making samples for apparel and accessories. We offer costing and sourcing services for brands that are starting a line of products.
I also work with individuals making custom made dresses and bespoke suits. Lastly, I manage a specialized tailoring and fashion service, called Transformation Tailors, that is dedicated to serve members of the transgender community with their wardrobe and styling needs.
RC: Tell us a little about your background and why you feel a connection to your work.
CD: After graduating from FIT , I worked as a designer for Tommy Hilfiger. I continued to work in the NYC fashion industry for 20 years as a designer and design director. The last company I worked for before starting my own was Henri Bendel. In the beginning of my career, it was extraordinary. As a designer, I was sent all over the globe. I would meet with factories and fabric mills in Italy, Istanbul, India, China, Hong Kong. We would be sent out to shop the markets of Tokyo, Spain, London, L.A…and report back on the trends we found. We worked endless hours, and under impossible deadlines, but we had creative freedom.
Then the numbers dropped. Fashion brands were in peril with cheap, hot, fast-fashion brands like H&M coming into town. Lower-tier stores were all the sudden carrying cute styles. For example, Target, and Vera Wang for Kohl’s. Mid-tier brands had to compete with shit low prices, especially once the recession hit.
The workplace was tense and unpleasant once the numbers dropped. In order to save the company, corporations there were regular layoffs. I was told to only knock off other brand’s designs, no risky new design ideas, please! No one needed to travel since designers can google the trends and create from that. The factories got more and more questionable. I realized I did not want any part of this.
RC: We’d like to know about your experience within your community. What community do you identify as being part of ? Why did you choose the neighborhood your business is located in, if you have a physical location? How have you become involved within your community?
CD: I could not be happier with where I am in life because of my company and my community. From a psychological and environmental view, I have hang ups about the fashion industry. I’m against how marketing fashion can create terrible self-esteem issues, it’s materialistic and superficial, and it’s wasteful and harmful to the planet.
With my business, I get to still do the fun creative aspects, but now I get the opportunity to help people feel better in their own clothes. My customers have different body shapes, ages, gender identities, style and background. I love solving a fit problem, creating a flattering improvement, and informing people that fit issues are due to the clothes, not their bodies.
RC: What advice would you give to young women who want to start a small business?
CD: It is a great time to start your own business. Do a ton of research to make sure your business will sustain. You may have a great idea for a product, service or company, but make sure you are a smart business person, too. If your weakness is understanding finances, make sure you hire someone or take classes to help in that area.
RC: What woman inspires you and why?
CD: I’m inspired by Sarah Blakley, who is the founder of Spanx. Her success story is a combination of a great idea, determination to get it made, and hard work to get it through the door and sold. She is a smart business person and generous with her mentorships and charity. Recently, she pledged $5,000,000 to support female-run small businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.
RC: How do you motivate yourself and stay motivated?
CD: I am a positive, upbeat person by nature, so that helps. However, the biggest motivator is when I look at my finances around bill paying time! Honestly, to be super motivated to start and keep a business afloat, it’s good to have a fire under your ass.
RC: Being a small business owner means relying on your community to support you and getting involved within your community as well. In what ways do you feel supported and actively engage with your neighborhood of residents and other business owners?
CD: I love that my job has me working with customers directly. I’m a people person and love meeting my neighbors. This neighborhood (Ditmas Park) is filled with the most top-notch people.